Microsoft Awarded 10,000th Patent

Regardless if what reputation Microsoft may carry when it comes to the originality of its software, there’s no question that the company brings a lot of technology to both businesses and end users.

Yesterday, Microsoft was proud to announce that it had been awarded its 10,000th U.S. patent. The achievement unlocked is likely a result of the $8 billion a year Microsoft spends on R&D, more than any other company in the industry. Outside the industry, Microsoft ranks fourth among companies receiving the most U.S. patents, with just over 2,000 patents in 2008.

“Most technology companies, Microsoft included, have been increasing their emphasis on IP in recent years, trying to derive greater business value from their intellectual assets,” says Bart Eppenauer, chief patent counsel, who oversees Microsoft’s patent portfolio. “One way to value a patent portfolio is to look at the quantity of patents it contains. Another way is to look at the influence the portfolio has on others.”

There is an argument that, as much as patents protect and reward innovation, it also restricts new implementations and ideas. Microsoft did point out in its announcement that since late 2003, the company shifted “from a defensive posture to a proactive, collaborative one” when it comes to licensing its patented technologies.

“Patents are the currency of innovation,” says Eppenauer. “What we’re seeing more often in the past several years is that patents and IP are now serving as bridges to collaboration through licensing and other technology collaboration. … Let’s face it, the days of the self-contained, go-it-alone company are over. This is especially true during the current economic downturn. Open innovation is more critical than ever in today’s business world.”

The milestone patent is U.S. Patent No. 7,479,950 and Microsoft’s Surface technology. The patent is for a surface to recognize an object that is placed on top of it, which then triggers an associated program or files to open. For example, one could place an associated souvenir from a trip on the surface, which would then start a slideshow of photos collected during travel. Even the orientation or motion of the souvenir could change behavior, such as slideshow speed.

Microsoft also gave the following example as another potential use for the surface technology: “When the teenage son places his keys on a surface computer, the technology recognizes them and automatically brings up sports scores, his playlist and his homework assignment. Later, when mom puts her purse on the surface, the computer can automatically bring up several predetermined items, including her daughter’s soccer game schedule and maps with driving directions to the away games.”

Curtis Wong, one of four co-inventors of the patent from Microsoft Research, said, “Surface computing gives people instant access to digital information in a new way. The goal of this patent is to make the interaction between the physical and virtual worlds a little more seamless.”

Marcus Yam
Marcus Yam served as Tom's Hardware News Director during 2008-2014. He entered tech media in the late 90s and fondly remembers the days when an overclocked Celeron 300A and Voodoo2 SLI comprised a gaming rig with the ultimate street cred.
  • Square_Head
    And then when you place a condom on the table it redirects you to a porn site.
  • joex444
    You've got a typo in the second word of your article. I blame QWERTY -- you should be on Dvorak.
  • falchard
    I really hate patents.
  • Milleman
    The whole idea about patents has gone out of its main purpose. The idea was to protect the inventor's invetion during a limited time so that he could get some money back from the spent research and development and give headroom during initial years of sale. Now it have become more or less a permanent ownership of ideas, which is sad for coming generations. Can you actually own an idea? Sounds like fascism. Luckily, the European Union have voted against software patents.
  • SAL-e
    If anybody is really interested in promotion of innovation should read "Against Intellectual Monopoly" by Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine. The book is available online for free. It was #1 for short period on Amazon. By the way it is book about economics not about the legal crap.

    ps. I am not representing the authors and I am not doing self promotion ether, that is way I am not including the link to the web site were the book can be found.
  • chris312
    Milleman, how does ownership of ideas sound like fascism to you? I'd like to understand your reasoning.

    I believe that patents and copyright help to encourage innovation. Think about it. Would you spend as much money developing new ideas and technology if you knew that your competitors had the right to use your ideas for free? That would put you behind the competition by exactly as much money as you had spent. Nobody would spend money on R&D and, especially in the computer industry, technology would become stagnant.

    Or is the argument against how long someone has total control over their idea? My reasoning is that the world was doing alright before the invention was thought up. The most profitable thing for the inventor would be to either produce as many of those things as he could or license his idea to other manufacturers. The great thing about new ideas is that none of them are essential to life, so if the inventor decides to gouge the price, people can decide to do without the widget.

    What do you guys think?
  • SAL-e
  • SAL-e
    You are raising interesting question. "Can you really own an idea?" Let see. You can own a car. You can use your car as you wish. You can sell me that car and then I will own that car and can use it as I wish. You can not use it any more. If I steal your car you will not have it any more.
    If you have an idea and you tell that idea to me. You and I will have copy of the same idea. You can use your copy and I can use mine. So the idea really is not a property. The only away to steal your copy of any idea is to erase it from your brain. There is only one away to do this. I need to kill you, but that will make me murderer not a thief.
    Let a assume that idea is property. That raises even bigger problem. Why you can own your property only for limited time? You can own your car as long you want. Other issue is that when you own a property you pay taxes to the government to protect your property. Do you really want to pay taxes on your ideas? I don't.

    The rest of you argument require very technical discussion, If you interested give me a call and will setup better channel for sensible communication. I am very interested into the subject.
  • ossie
    The number of owned patents is not a measure of value, but it is quite a good way to count the roadblocks put in others way to innovate.
    m$ is not actually known for innovation but really famous for hoarding of that of others and a champion at stifling competition.
  • tipoo
    falchardI really hate patents.

    why? without them there would be less incentive for progress.